The private Amtrak compliant sleeper “Birch Grove” was built in 1950 by the Budd Company as part of a twenty five car order from the Southern Pacific Railroad.
The SP wanted to rebuild the rolling stock used on their famed Sunset Limited route between Los Angeles and New Orleans. The SP assigned numbers to their cars as opposed to naming them as did most other railroads of the day. “Birch Grove” was assigned the number 9020. The first twenty sleepers produced between 1948 and 1950 were identical and were numbered 9001-9020. The last five, 9021-9025, were blunt end sleepers designed to operate on the rear of the consist.
For the next twenty one years “Birch Grove/9020, rolled between L.A. and New Orleans on the Sunset Limited.
In 1971 Amtrak was formed. The cars that initially made up Amtrak were all cherry picked from the various passenger rail lines that were discontinuing passenger service due to staggering annual losses in the passenger industry. All of the SP Budd built sleepers that were still running, a few had been lost to derailments, were bought by Amtrak. “Birch Grove” was renumbered 2696 by Amtrak and ironically, assigned to remain operating on the Sunset Limited route. This remained for the next nine years when in 1980, the car was sent to Amtrak’s Beech grove shops for a major shop rebuild where it was converted to a handicap accessible sleeper by eliminating the porter’s quarters and public restroom, enlarging roomette #10, and widening the B end door and entryway. At this same time Amtrak decided to name the remaining sixteen sleepers as the “Grove” series, thus car 9020/2696 became “Birch Grove”.
From 1980 until 1995 “Birch Grove” continued to serve on the Sunset Limited route with occasional assignments to New York to serve on the Florida routes.
In 1995 after forty five years of non-stop service and millions of miles, Amtrak sold the car at auction in Hialeah Florida. Chuck Grisler from New Orleans bought the car and had it moved to Nashville TN where it sat on a siding near the station for the next two years. In 1997 Cincinnatian Tom McOwen bought the car and had it moved to the station in Birmingham Alabama. Mr. McOwen acquired several sleepers in an effort to initiate sleeping car service behind Amtrak between Cincinnati and Chicago. When those plans failed to materialize, the car remained at the Birmingham station until 2001 when Brian Collins, current owner of the Cincinnati Railway and co-owner of the Cincinnati dinner train, purchased the car. Collins moved the car to Bellvue Ohio on a freight move, to the Sea Island Passenger Service shops to have the car made Amtrak compliant. Over the next sixteen months the trucks were rebuilt, retention tanks installed, a generator hung, side sills repaired, collision posts rebuilt and several other items addressed so as to be able to again operate behind Amtrak at speeds reaching 110 MPH.
In 2003 “Birch Grove” attended its first AAPRCO convention in New Orleans LA as an Amtrak compliant private car.
In 2006 the interior had major restorations done at the L&C restoration shops in Lancaster S.C. In 2010 Collins sold a 50% share in “Birch Grove” to fellow Cincinnati Railway owner, Harry Davis of Crown Point IN. “Birch Grove” continues to operate at least ten times each year on special charters all over the country. It serves as a companion car to the dome car “Moonlight Dome” which is also owned by Brian Collins and Harry Davis. On rare occasions “Birch Grove” can been seen operating behind the Cincinnati Dinner Train.
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